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FedEx sees a corporate future

The package-delivery firm says linking its shipping software into corporate systems is better than mere electronic document delivery.

Federal Express sees its biggest e-commerce opportunity in linking its shipping software to corporate enterprise resource planning [ERP] systems, rather than in delivering documents electronically.

FedEx today announced an upgrade to its Web site that lets customers arrange to ship packages online in 58 nations, not just the United States. FedEx has enabled online tracking for some time. The site also lets customers conduct business in Japanese, Spanish, French, or English.

Like rival shipping firm UPS, FedEx mixes a healthy dose of technology with its shipping and logistics services. Even with limited tracking capabilities, FedEx customers check on package-delivery status more than 2 million times a month, up from 1.7 million a month in May.

FedEx has actively pursued making its tracking service available on other Firms' Web sites, publishing a software interface for developers to integrate in their offerings. More than 5,000 Web sites now link to FedEx for tracking packages.

"Increasingly our customers have requested from FedEx more integration of the physical and information sides," said Laurie Tucker, executive vice president of e-commerce. "We will continue to build out our consulting and professional services to meet customer requirements."

FedEx has announced agreements with ERP giant SAP and e-commerce vendor Interworld to build links to its online tracking site into their software.

The company said today that two-thirds of its package volume is ordered online--up 50-plus percent in the last 12 months. Through both its Web site and proprietary PC software for customers, FedEx hopes to move all order-taking and tracking online, reducing the company's costs.

FedEx's logistics services also help run fulfillment and warehouse operations for major manufacturers and big retailers, including PC maker Monorail, which in October said FedEx will handle logistics for its entire business.

FedEx still delivers a lot of documents, however, and has been slow to move into electronic delivery. UPS announced electronic document delivery in March, saying it would be available by mid-year. Pitney Bowes entered electronic document delivery in August.

Tracking from The UPS Web site is higher than FedEx's--now running 600,000 tracking requests a day per UPS, with up to 1 million expected as Christmas nears, said UPS spokesman Steve Holmes.

UPS also offers its Web site in 16 languages, with more on the way. Some 10,000 users have downloaded UPS Internet tools but the company has no figures on how many Web sites point back to UPS for tracking. Its tools are integrated with e-commerce software firms including Harbinger and iCat.

"Customers are asking us to re-engineer the supply chain, not correspondence," said Mike James, vice president of e-commerce at FedEx. "You can basically break a company's activity into correspondence, exceptions, and orders. Orders tend to be largest, and we are concentrating very heavily on that area. It's the biggest opportunity to create customer advantages."

Both James and Dennis Jones, chief information officer of FedEx parent FDX Corporation, expressed doubts about whether electronic document delivery is yet a profitable niche.

"If we can provide a service that captivates the market, then we will pay more time and attention to it than do currently," Jones said. James stressed that FedEx could quickly partner with technology providers for electronic document delivery.

Other new features of Web-site tracking unveiled today include an address book for 75 frequently used addresses, email alerts to up to three parties when a package is shipped, requesting a pickup online, and checking back 45 days on shipping status.